CDC guidelines for schools reopening puts heavy emphasis on having students back in classroom

Health, Fitness & Food

A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Edward R. Roybal campus in Atlanta, Georgia on April 23, 2020.

Tami Chappell | AFP | Getty Images

With some school districts just weeks away from the start of the academic year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released long-awaited guidelines for reopening with a heavy emphasis on getting students back into the classroom.

The guidelines laid out the social, emotional and mental risks of keeping students at home and gave broad outlines on how to resume in-person instruction in line with what the CDC has already recommenced to other entities, like practicing good hygiene, disinfecting surfaces regularly and spacing out students to maintain social distancing.

Other recommendations included repurposing unused or underutilized buildings or moving classes outside when possible and keeping students in “pods” where the same groups stay together throughout the school day. Schools were also encouraged to have a plan for what to do when someone gets sick, with the guidelines saying it wouldn’t be necessary for the entire school to shut down if a single person tested positive.

Some of the largest school districts in the country have already said they won’t be bringing students back to the classroom in the fall and will do all remote learning instead. In announcing the release of the guidelines Thursday, Trump suggested the decision by districts not to resume in-person learning was politically motivated, and threatened again to pull federal funding for schools that don’t open their doors.

“I hope that local leaders put the full health and well-being of their students first and make the right decision for parents, teachers and not make political decisions, this is about something very, very important,” Trump said.

He said funds for schools that don’t reopen should be diverted to parents who could then choose to send their child to a private or charter school.

Schools are already struggling to find the funding needed to meet students’ additional needs amid the coronavirus pandemic, like providing hand sanitizer, extra busses to allow for social distancing and multiple materials so students don’t have to share.

“If the school is closed, the money should follow the student so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions,” Trump said. “So I would like the money to go to the parents of the student.”

The White House has emphasized that the guidance is only a recommendation and will not replace state and local decision-making. Interim guidelines on reopening schools have been available on the agency’s website since mid-May.

In line with Trump’s push to have school open by the fall, the CDC’s guidance put a sharp focus on the necessity of in-person learning, outlining the social, emotional and physical toll on students if they aren’t in the classroom.

But it also emphasized that there is a physical risk to returning students to the classroom. The guidelines noted that some children may be at increased risk of having severe illness from the virus, like those who have developmental disabilities, an underlying condition, certain neurological conditions, or who have congenital heart disease.

“Parents, guardians, and caregivers should weigh the relative health risks of COVID-19 transmission from in-personal instruction against the educational, social-behavioral, and emotional risks of providing no in-person instruction when deciding between these two options,” the guidelines said, adding that “if you, your child, or a household member are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, you will need to weigh the benefits, risks, and feasibility of the educational options available.”

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